As someone who spends most of the year as what could be referred to as a “Shabbos Goy,” I may be the perfect audience for offerings to the Christmas canon by members of the Tribe. There is, of course, the monumental “White Christmas” penned by Irving Berlin, but throughout the years many Jewish performers have recorded their own Christmas albums for enthusiastic audiences. Here’s a rundown of the best, the weirdest, and the most surprising.
Neil Diamond — “Little Drummer Boy”
As a nine-year-old who spent a lot of time watching Neil Diamond’s somewhat bizarre Christmas special, it took me a few years to come to terms with his holiday music. But over time, he wore me down and made me a fan. He did record three Christmas albums, after all.
Barbra Streisand — “Jingle Bells”
On Barbra Streisand’s bestselling A Christmas Album, she records plenty of the classics — and even does a musical version of “The Lord’s Prayer,” for whatever reason. But really, is there anything more insane than her rendition of “Jingle Bells”? Warning: this might give you an anxiety attack.
Sammy Davis, Jr. — “It’s Christmas Time All Over the World”
Rat Pack member Sammy Davis, Jr. famously converted to Judaism, but that didn’t stop him from recording this jazzy little number.
Bob Dylan — “It Must Be Santa”
Sure, the artist born Robert Allen Zimmerman became an outspoken born-again Christian in the late ’70s, recording two gospel albums and refusing to perform his early secular work on tour. Still, it came as something of a surprise when the folk-rock hero recorded a Christmas album — even one as cheeky as 2009’s Christmas in the Heart.
Bette Midler — “From a Distance (Christmas Version)”
Bette Midler’s Cool Yule includes the standard Christmas fare, including a nod to her Hawaiian upbringing with a cover of “Mele Kalikimaka.” But it also includes a “Christmas version” of Midler’s #1 hit from 1990. That’s… weird, right? But, of course, this is not a random occurrence. (You’re not off the hook, Neil Diamond, for “Cherry Cherry Christmas.”)
Carly Simon — “The Night Before Christmas”
Please enjoy a slideshow of Carly Simon’s personal Christmas party to accompany her original holiday tune. It’s the best gift Carly Simon could bestow upon the rest of us!
Paul Simon — “Getting Ready for Christmas Day”
Paul Simon is not a particularly religious singer-songwriter, and his version of a Christmas song, naturally, is like pretty much all of his music: much more introspective and political than anything else.
Carole King — “My Favorite Things”
A Christmas Carole (title: woof) is no Tapestry, although all of the production techniques in the world were apparently used to make it sound like a classic Carole King album. Also, this is the perfect opportunity to complain about The Sound of Music‘s “My Favorite Things” being co-opted as a Christmas song, which IT IS NOT.
Ramones — “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight)”
Penned by Joey Ramone (born Jeffrey Ross Hyman), here’s another song that doesn’t have much of a religious theme to it, but is nonetheless one of the most perfect — and underrated — punk-rock Christmas song ever recorded.
Mel Tormé — “The Christmas Song”
One of the more famous modern Christmas songs, “The Christmas Song” was co-written by Jewish vocalist Mel Tormé. Tormé admitted to penning the song during the blazing-hot summer of 1944 in an effort to “stay cool by thinking cool.”